It was way back in 1981 when I made what I consider to be my first proper fashion purchase, a two piece grey suit from the Daniel Hechter flagship store in Bond Street for a wedding I was attending. I felt a million dollars in it and the £100 price tag was the most I had ever spent on clothing.
Until then I had always been interested in my “look” and the clothes I wore, but I was ignorant of what the fashion world had to offer beyond hand-me-downs from my elder brother, a clued up independent clothes retailer in my home counties home town and the normal run-of-the-mill high street chains.
In my early teens it had been shrink-to-fit Levis, leather soled loafers, Stapress trousers, tonic suits, Ben Sherman shirts, silk lined Crombies and Harrington jackets with their distinctive tartan linings. In hind sight it was a mix of semi-mod and semi-skinhead and it went along with the Motown and Reggae music which was the backing track of that time. In my mid teens my taste evolved through Oxford Bags into baggies with high waist bands and the widest leg you could buy. Platform shoes were superceded by “Spoons”, almost clown-like in their appearance (I remember wearing a white pair to school one day where the strict uniform code stipulated sensible black shoes). There were cheese cloth shirts which shrunk so much they were two sizes smaller within weeks, tank tops and jumbo collars, all signposting my haphazard route to style maturity.
Despite my brief foray into the West End for that wedding suit, I didn’t have the income to justify regular additions to my wardrobe, but with time came success, a more inflated income and subsequently my discovery of quality. I say quality because I’m not an admirer of “labels” but I do appreciate good quality tailoring, materials and finishing.
I remember vividly going shopping with my then business partner for some garb for a very important new business meeting for our fledgling advertising agency. It was 1988 and we had a small office just off Oxford Street, so it wasn’t hard to find inspiration within a short walk. My first purchase was a 100% navy cashmere single-breasted jacket from Paul Smith in Covent Garden. As soon as I tried it on I knew I had to have it; it felt like a million dollars and the £350.00 price tag seemed like a million dollars too. From there it was down to Burlington Arcade, between Piccadilly and Jermyn Street, to visit New & Lingwood, a traditional outfitter that had become super-cool at the time due to Tom Wolfe’s novel Bonfire of the Vanities, which I had read on my daily commute into London. There I made my second purchase a plain white traditional double-cuffed Egyptian cotton formal shirt with mother-of-pearl buttons and the longest tails I had ever experienced. It was hand made in England and smelt of quality.
The outfit was completed by some grey flannels, Loake shoes, Tiffany & Co silver buckled belt, silk knot cuff links and a hand printed silk tie from an artisan designer in Soho. I daren’t imagine what I had spent in modern terms but the result was a complete makeover of my look and an unexpected boost to my confidence.
From then on I was hooked. Slick, quality tailoring was my hallmark. More comfortable in a suit and tie than a sweatshirt and trainers, perhaps even hiding behind the persona that my “look” created, I’ve always been traditionally well groomed with that little bit of an edge brought by an injection of colour through a shirt or a tie.
Don’t start me on cuff links or pens!
Fast forward 30 years or so and nothing has really changed for me. Despite the loss of hair and the silvering of what hair I do have, I’m as conscious of my style as I’ve ever been. I may not be attending daily business meetings or attending social events but I still maintain that eye for style and quality and take pride in my appearance. I see no reason to give up and regress to “comfortable” shoes, fleeces, slacks and non-iron shirts, which appear to be the uniform of the middle aged and elderly. I won’t shop at M&S or from catalogues, but I will buy quirky gold label garments from TKMaxx, have bespoke suits made by my tailor and buy Turnbull & Asser shirts that are still made in England. Many would say “What’s the point at your age?”, but my point would be that my clothes, demeanor and general appearance say everything about me. That I still care, I still have something to say and I still have a place.
In 2018, exactly 30 years from that first Paul Smith jacket, I had my tailor make me a very similar jacket in navy blue cashmere. I wear it regularly as a day jacket. It’s classically styled, unimaginably comfortable and totally practical – the only real difference is that it cost a lot more than that £350 in 1988.
#stapress #harrington #tonicsuit #bespoke #loafers #levis #tiffany #paulsmith #bensherma #baggies #60andstylish #maturestyle